(AP) The Republican candidates for New York City mayor were set to square off for a debate as the campaign entered its final stretch.
Former Metropolitan Transit Authority chairman Joe Lhota maintains a lead over John Catsimatidis, the billionaire oil and grocery store magnate, and George McDonald, who founded a non-profit to help the homeless find work. But Wednesday night's televised debate, which will provide many New Yorkers their first glimpse of all the candidates in the same setting, could shake things up in advance of the Sept. 10 primary.
Lhota, who served as deputy mayor under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was credited with steering the MTA through Hurricane Sandy last fall. He immediately became the favorite and a fundraising juggernaut when he entered the race earlier this year.
But Catsimatidis remains within striking distance.
In a recent Marist College survey, he trailed Lhota 33 percent to 22 percent, though the small sample size of just 132 likely Republican primary voters produced a margin of error of 8.5 points. Additionally, 30 percent were undecided.
Catsimatidis, who is worth $3 billion and owns an oil refinery, a network of gas stations and the Gristedes supermarket chain, has already spent $4 million of his own money in the race and is promising more. His latest ad mocks Lhota for calling Port Authority police officers "mall cops" earlier this year.
McDonald, who tallied 12 percent in that poll, has struggled since he failed to overturn the city's laws that limit the size of individual donations. The founder of the Doe Fund has made little impact on the race except when he called former congressman Anthony Weiner a "self-pleasuring freak" during a verbal dust-up at a mayoral forum.
A final televised debate is scheduled for Sept. 8. Whichever candidate emerges from the primary two days later will be viewed as a significant underdog against the eventual Democratic nominee, according to recent polling.
The general election, which will also feature independent Adolfo Carrion Jr., will be held Nov. 5. The three-term incumbent, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is not eligible to run again.